Doctor Strange and the Historical Roots of the Multiverse

Until recently, shared universes were rare in cinema, and unheard of at this point, but the MCU has of course been phenomenally commercially successful. Audiences are happy to be entangled in its ever-expanding web of interconnected stories, and Disney has enjoyed similar success with its Star Wars shared universe, while many rival studios have tried (but most failed) to make the same with theirs. But why stop there? If a company can swallow the rights to every screen incarnation of Batman, Superman, or Spider-Man, it can delight fans by squeezing them into the same movie. In other words, it can go from a shared universe to a multiverse. There’s no need to stick with superheroes either. Warner Bros. likes to put all of its intellectual property in one basket, and so luminaries from the fictional Harry Potter and The Matrix universes make appearances in The Lego Batman Movie.

On some level, multiversal films evoke our free-wheeling childhood games and conversations, in which we (or the geeks among us, anyway) wondered if Han Solo could top Indiana Jones. On another level, these films are the result of a narrative one-upmanship. How do you raise the stakes after the entire cosmos has been in peril? Where is there left to go? But the trend may also have deeper reasons behind it. It could be a response to the sentiment, so often expressed on social media, that our own reality is so absurd and dystopian that there must be a better timeline somewhere. It could also be a response to the internet’s information overload and the feeling that countless universes are vying for our attention every time we go online. It was certainly one of the thoughts that led to Everything Everywhere, Everything At Once. “We wanted the maximalism of the film to connect with what it’s like to scroll through an endless amount of stuff,” Scheinert told Slash Film, “which we all do too.”

The Daniels’ wonderfully goofy but touching film – imagine The Matrix remade by Michel Gondry – may have a smaller budget than a Marvel blockbuster, but it’s bigger than most in terms of heart and soul. Beyond all the outlandish fight scenes, raccoon puppets, and wide-eyed animated rocks, Everything Everywhere All at Once is about the decisions we make that send our lives in wildly different directions — and the knowledge that even if there can be an endless parallel universe, we will always be stuck in one of them.

It’s unlikely that any multiversal movie will top Daniels’ gonzo masterpiece, but, as superhero comics have proven over the decades, there are plenty of other worlds to explore. It’s almost inevitable that Disney (owner of Marvel’s superheroes) will strike a deal with Warner Bros (owner of DC’s superheroes) and we will one day have a movie in which Doctor Strange, Hulk and Spider-Man from Marvel will be up against DC’s Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman. Who knows, maybe they’ll bump into Michelle Yeoh while they’re at it. If it doesn’t happen in this universe, it’s bound to happen in another.

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness was released in the UK on May 5 and in the US on May 6. Everything Everywhere All at Once is available now in the US and is released in the UK on May 13.

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